MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - With the Dolphins outplaying them badly in all three phases Sunday, the Bengals slid back to their early-season miseries in the first half when their offense went through five three-and-outs on their first six drives to go into halftime at Hard Rock Stadium trailing, 21-6.
Only Randy Bullock's franchise-best 57-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half saved the day.
Meanwhile, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick presided over a defensive meltdown marked by massive blown coverages that resulted in his 252 passing yards, the most by a Dolphins quarterback in a first half since the Dan Marino days in 1991.
The third of his three first-half touchdowns came when he rolled away from pressure and found tight end Mike Gesicki for a 31-yarder all by himself for Miami's 21-3 lead with 2:20 left in the half. It was set up two snaps before by wide receiver Albert Wilson's 35-yard catch on a slant out of the slant underneath the defense.
Fitzpatrick was 18 of 30 for a blistering 120 passer rating while the Bengals' Andy Dalton struggled on 10 of 18 for 102 yards. He was more up and down than the notoriously streaky Fitzpatrick. He overthrew a couple of balls, one a third down to wide receiver Tyler Boyd. He also had a 50-yard-plus ball down the left sideline dropped by wide receiver John Ross.
But he did scrape together a 12-yard completion to Ross to give Bullock a shot at the half. Bullock missed the 52-yarder to the left, but the Dolphins called timeout. Then when he missed to the right, right guard Billy Price false started. But Bullock delivered to break the 55-yard record held by Chris Bahr and Mike Nugent.
The Bengals' running game that has carried them last month came up empty in the half even though it faced the NFL defense giving up the most points. Running back Joe Mixon, saddled by a virus and a sore calf, had 22 yards on 10 carries as Fitzpatrick found four different receivers for catches of at least 27 yards.
Fitzpatrick hit nine of his first 11 passes and finished the first two drives with two touchdown passes and 150 yards on 10 of 14.
On the game's first drive Fitzy was FitzMagic when he made the Bengals defensive fundamentals disappear in a 75-yard drive all the yards came through the air on his five of six passing. The touchdown came after the Dolphins hogged the ball for nearly 6:32 when Fitzpatrick's play-action roll-out found rookie defensive tackle Christian Wilkins for a one-yard touchdown play.
That capped one of the Bengals' most atrocious defensive series in weeks. Fitzpatrick turned a second-and-19 (after a holding call) into a 27-yard completion to a wide-open Allen Hurns. Before that Fitzpatrick converted a third-and-three for 12 yards to wide receiver Albert Wilson running away from cornerback B.W. Webb. Then he watched Wilson turn a check down pass into a 14-yard gain when linebacker Nick Vigil got blocked and no one else was there and turn a dump pass into eight yards when he made safety Shawn Williams miss near the line of scrimmage.
Then the Bengals promptly went three-and-out when Dalton got sacked on second-and-eight on what appeared to be a lack of communication with Price making his first NFL start at right guard.
Fitzpatrick then set his sights on someone you've heard of. Wide receiver DeVante Parker grabbed all three completions on their second possession for 77 yards and all were back-breakers.
The Bengals had the Dolphins at third-and-12 to start the drive when Parker went leaping over a zone to make a great 19-yard contested catch. Then, as Fitzpatrick was getting crushed by the blitzing Williams and defensive end Carl Lawson on a flea flicker, cornerback William Jackson couldn't find a moon ball to Parker for 51 yards. Then on third and goal Parker caught a seven-yard touchdown pass when he got inside Jackson on a slant and Fitzpatrick put it only where Parker could get it on a nifty fingertip catch to put the Dolphins up, 14-0, ten minutes into the game.
The Bengals followed that by suffering a second straight three-and-out when a first down jet sweep to wide receiver John Ross did nothing, Mixon's cut-back to the back side was enveloped and on third-and-eight Ross ran by cornerback Tae Hayes down the left sideline. Dalton put it out there. But Ross only got his left hand on it and bounced away.
But a nice Dalton pass to Ross for 34 yards on a similar play going the other way in the second quarter finally put the Bengals in the red zone. That came after Boyd got the drive going with his career-high 77th catch on a nice grab on a 19-yard in cut.
But the Bengals' red-zone woes and inconsistent short-yardage and goal-line runs conspired to hold them to a Bullock chip-shot field goal that cut the Dolphins' lead to 14-3 with 10:49 left in the second quarter.
The Bengals had a first down from the Miami and three runs to their best player, Mixon, were pretty much swallowed, the last one getting blown up for a one-yard loss on the left-center part of the line as Dalton was handing off.
The drive, the Bengals' third of the game, featured their fourth different tackle of the season in rookie Fred Johnson.
Check out game photos from Week 16 as the Bengals face the Miami Dolphins.
The Bengals then wasted a defensive stand and wide receiver Alex Erickson's longest return of the season, a 17-yarder, with a three-and-out. Ross got five yards on another jet sweep, Mixon could only get a couple and on third-and-three Dalton tried to hit tight end Tyler Eifert in a height matchup, but there was no separation and Dalton threw it too high.
Then they wasted great field position when Kevin Huber punted it to the Dolphins 6 and suddenly Fitz was in the middle of a cold two-for-10 stretch that resulted in a three-and-out.
But the Bengals could do nothing with it. Cornerback Tony McRae was called for a hold on the punt return and they went three-and-out when Dalton's third-and-five pass got batted down by linebacker Jerome Baker in the middle of the field.
Meanwhile, the Bengals offensive line kept going through change. On that drive, Johnson was at left tackle again and John Jerry went in for Price at right guard. Then when the Bengals got the ball back with 2:20 left in the half and down, 21-3, they went back to Cordy Glenn at left tackle and Price at right guard.